|Protecting democracy, civil rights|
|Monday, 18 February 2013 09:42am|
©The New Straits Times (Used by permission)
by A. Jalil Hamid, Yushaimi Yahaya and Farrah Naz Karim
THE WAY FORWARD: In this second part of our exclusive interview, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein delves extensively into the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, more commonly known as Sosma, as well as the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 it replaced. This comes on the heels of his detailed explanation on why the government had reviewed or abolished major pieces of legislation, namely the ISA, Banishment Act 1959, Restricted Residence Act 1933, the Emergency Proclamations of 1966, 1969 and 1977, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Section 27 of the Police Act 1967 in the first part published in the New Sunday Times yesterday. He also touched on the People's Volunteer Corps (Rela) Act 2012 and Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 as well as the International Transfer of Prisoners Act 2012, and shared the rationale and spirit behind these changes. The Umno vice-president speaks to A. Jalil Hamid, Yushaimi Yahaya and Farrah Naz Karim.
A LINE Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak uttered some time ago is permanently seared in Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein's mind.
The home minister sees the wisdom behind such a simple, honest assessment that some may even dismiss as obvious. "The country," says the premier, "is becoming an increasingly mature, modern and progressive democracy".
Protect democracy, enhance civil rights and freedom, and respect the wishes of the people. Listen to them, do a good job, be fair but be responsible.
Hishammuddin vowed that the government had been doing just that and the changes had borne fruit.
Despite the successes, it continues to be attacked by the opposition, for obvious reasons -- politics.
He admitted the government and country had a long way to go but pointed out to what is not as obvious: this country has achieved so much in only 55 years while developed countries took hundreds of years to get to where they are now, democratically-speaking.
"While we want a mature, progressive democracy, our democracy is not subservient or dependent on the democracy practised in countries like the United States, for example.
"Women were only given voting rights in the 1920s, while the blacks were freed from slavery after the Civil War in the 1860s in which more than one million people died.
"It is just irresponsible to put our country on the same level as countries like the US."
He also pointed to the other extreme. China, he said, had had centuries of history before practising its own brand of ideology.
So what do the US and China have to do with the political transformation programmes?
Hishammuddin laid everything on the table. The government had, in the last four years, abolished the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960; the Emergency Proclamations of 1966, 1969 and 1977; Banishment Act 1959, Restricted Residence Act 1933; Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Section 27 of the Police Act 1967.
"The fact is we have done it. Ini bukan janji kosong (these are not empty promises)," he said, his conviction evident in the timbre, inflection and cadence of his voice during an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times at his office in Putrajaya on Friday.
Here are excerpts of the interview:
On the repealed Internal Security Act
The abolishment of the ISA was done in line with the government's commitment in driving the country towards a more progressive future.
From 1960, 10,888 (until April 2013) individuals had been arrested under Section 8(1).
Between the time when the prime minister was sworn in on April 3, 2009, and July 31, 2012, the date of the abolishment, there were 42 detainees in Kamunting.
From the number, 19 were released in stages.
At present, there are 23 people still being detained at the camp. Seven of them are being confined there for their involvement in terrorism while the rest, for human trafficking.
Chief concerns of the government with the ISA, which led to it being abolished, were the lengthy period of detention (60 days), that it could be abused for political reasons, that detainees had no access to their families and counsel as well as the question of whether or not released detainees had been fully rehabilitated.
Criticism notwithstanding, those detained under the ISA all went through a very comprehensive rehabilitation, or some would say, re-indoctrination process.
This is aimed at, among others, turning them around and reinforcing their sense of belonging to the nation. This includes modules on morals, civic duty, religion and self-improvement.
The ISA was actually never about punishing, but rehabilitation. The reason it had to go was because the government wanted to push and promote the concept and value of human rights, just as much as the people.
(This was corroborated by the Undersecretary for Security and Public Order Division, Datuk Awang Din Husain, who was present at the interview.)
Cautioning against the false notion that authorities cannot effectively deal with threats to national security now that the ISA had been abolished, Hishammuddin stressed that nothing could be further from that as attested by the recent arrest of three people under the months-old Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 or Sosma for their alleged involvement in terror-related activities -- all without trampling on civil liberties and basic human rights.
On Sosma, which replaced the ISA
In handling complex post- communism anti-democratic challenges, the country not only needs political maturity but also a weapon in the form of Sosma.
This piece of legislation allows for the fight against security-related cases.
While this act, which was formulated under Article 149 of the Constitution, allows police to arrest suspects and carry out investigations beyond the norms of criminal procedures, the government had taken measures to ensure their rights are protected.
No one under this law can be arrested for his political leanings or activities that are within the confines of the law.
While the police are empowered by special powers to arrest and detain those believed to be involved in security offences, the power to arrest without trial is history.
It must be stressed that the power to arrest and detain for not more than 28 days, is for the sole purpose of conducting an investigation.
In ensuring the rights of detainees, the police must submit their investigation papers to prosecutors who will decide if a detainee will be charged in court or freed.
Those arrested can apply for habeas corpus with the court and can challenge the reason for their arrest. The government and authorities will respect the court's decision.
Once they are freed, they will not be arrested for the same offence.
This law is unique in the sense that the "sunset clause" for the 28-day detention is to be reviewed every five years.
The government, through a committee, will review the whole act from time to time and monitor its implementation as well as make recommendations for improvements.
On the rights of Sosma detainees
Unlike the ISA where families of detainees are denied access, Sosma requires the investigating officer to inform the detainee's next-of-kin about the arrest as soon as possible.
The police must also ensure that detainees have access to their attorneys no later than 48 hours.
This law was used for the first time recently against three people for their suspected involvement in terror-related activities and the authorities complied with all its requirements in dealing with them.
This includes allowing them access to family and counsel.
The people can see that although the ISA has been abolished, the government has a new act, a mechanism sound enough to deal with activities that could threaten national security.
The government will not compromise on elements that can put the country in danger.
The counter-terrorism team of the police will continue to monitor splinter cells of militant groups and take action as provisioned under Sosma and other existing laws.
While we are engaged in the process of changing the way things are done and strive to meet the aspirations and expectations of the people, we have come up with a book on guidelines in enforcing this law. We want to move forward responsibly.
As home minister, my conscience is clear.
While we move forward in becoming a mature, modern and progressive democracy, the gains that we have accomplished to get here must not be compromised.
We have to remember that peace and democracy are fragile, as we have seen in Egypt, Libya and Syria.
A strong, responsible, forward-thinking government that has the experience in managing the country and the challenges it faces is critical in ensuring that the peace and stability that we have enjoyed can be handed down to our children and their children.
On how different Sosma is from the ISA
We shadow them from the start. In one particular case, we shadowed him (the main suspect) for one solid year from the time he left (ISA) detention.
There are also provisions in Sosma that will strengthen a case, like protection of witnesses' and informers' identities as well as the admissibility of intercepted communications in court.
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